Victoria is negotiating a “significant” order for 166 million rapid antigen tests to build on its stockpile.
The state recorded 21,966 new COVID-19 cases and 15 deaths on Thursday, with 11,693 of the infections from PCR tests and 10,273 from RATs.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced the state government will order 166 million RATs, in addition to the 44 million tests ordered earlier this month.
“It’s very important that we keep adding to that stockpile,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“This is a very significant order that we’ve placed, among the largest, I expect, across the country.”
How the tests will be distributed is yet to be announced.
Mr Andrews said the additional tests will cost “hundreds of millions” but declined to give an exact amount as negotiations were ongoing.
He warned the order would take “some time” to arrive as most of the RATs will come from China.
“We’re also working on whether we can manufacture and boost some local manufacturing that’s already occurring,” he said.
Out of the 44 million already ordered, 7.5 million RATs have arrived since Sunday, with more than two million distributed to health workers, staff in sensitive settings and vulnerable communities.
However, Mr Andrews said some tests did not arrive as planned this week due to the ash cloud from the underwater volcano eruption in Tonga.
Victoria is now managing 246,894 active cases, which includes 1206 people in hospital, an increase of 33 on Wednesday’s figures.
The number of people in intensive care sits at 122 and there are 40 people on ventilation.
COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar said the number of health staff unable to work due to becoming close contacts or contracting the virus was beginning to decline.
“Today we have 3900 health staff who are unable to work, that number is pleasingly starting to come down — it was 4500 yesterday,” he said.
He said case numbers were beginning to stabilise, as were PCR testing wait times, which had fallen to half an hour on average.
Mr Weimar said 86.5 per cent of COVID-19 test results were being returned the following day.
Victoria’s booster rate has risen to 27 per cent after the government immediately slashed the interval to three months at its state-run clinics on Wednesday.
Mr Andrews said he expects national cabinet on Thursday to agree three doses of the vaccine are needed to be fully inoculated.
“This new Omicron variant, it is so high that the only thing that we can do is get a third dose, call it a booster, it is not really a booster, it is not a bonus, it is critically important,” he said.
He flagged on Wednesday the third dose will soon become mandatory, noting a mandate imposed for several essential industries last week.
More than 200,000 booster appointments are available over the next two weeks, with 60,000 additional slots available as part of a four-day “booster blitz” from Friday at eight state-run hubs.